Reading: Fuel for thought

While digging around the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) web site I discovered Fuel for thought, a publication by the Future Fuels Forum 2007. This June 2008 publication informs us how the Future Fuels Forum thinks transport fuels will pan out in our future with modelling from now to 2050.  It is an interesting document and I suggest you read it if you are at all interested in the future of transport fuels in Australia. Click the cover page below to download the PDF (1.5Mb).

challenges and opportunities (PDF)

CSIRO 2008: Fuel for thought - The future of transport fuels: challenges and opportunities (PDF)

Apart from being relatively easy to read and informative for those of us without a scientific or economic background it provides great insight into the conservative information upon which our governments are making decisions that impact your future and mine. It isn’t all conservative mind you. The modelling for a continuing rise in demand for oil and a sharp decline in supply shows we could pay as much as $8 per litre for petrol in the not too distant future and the authors do stress the urgency with which alternatives for oil must be found.

While the document was written before the global financial crisis really started to bite the bulk of it remains relevant. If you do read it I’d like to know what you think so please leave a comment.


Google Transit available for Perth and Adelaide

Way back in March 2008 we got wind of the fact that Google Transit was going to be rolled out in Perth. Well, this week Google announced that the Google Transit Layer is available for Perth and some public transport information is available for Adelaide. Google Transit Layer enables users of Google Maps to source public transport information directly from the map.

Google Transit for Leaderville Station in Perth

Google Transit for Leaderville Station in Perth

Unfortunately, at this stage the Transit Layer shows a different level of information depending on which city you view. In Perth, users can see the layout of the entire public transit system, zoom in on a particular route and click on a bus stop or train station to find out which buses or trains pass through (as shown above).To activate the Transit Layer you click More on the top right of the Google Map and check the Transit box.

In Adelaide you won’t be able to see the network as a layer on the map but can still click on bus stops and train stations to bring up a window with colour-coded routes and a direct link to the Adelaide Metro web site (as shown below). Tram users in Adelaide can also see timetables. As there are no layers to activate you just zoom in to the area of interest until the bust stops, train stations and tram stops become visible.

Google Transit Bus Stop I3 North Tce Adelaide

Google Transit Bus Stop I3 North Tce in Adelaide

This is another excellent tool from Google. If you’ve got time please have a play around with it and let us know what you think in the comments.

Source: Techworld

Queensland Rail introduce e-mail and SMS update service

Queensland Rail (QR) is introducing a service called eRail Updates. The service provides SMS and email updates for all train services that have been delayed or disrupted by more than 15 minutes or cancelled completely. Once subscribed you receive the updates via SMS to your mobile phone or via e-mail to your nominated email address.

Brisbane traineRail Updates are available 24/7 and is currently free. Go to eRail Updates to register for the service. You register your details and tailor your requirements to the times and lines you travel on the QR network. You are then alerted in accordance with the entered information.

Hopefully this will appease disgruntled rail commuters in Queensland and convince a few more people to leave their cars at home. However, the fact that the eRail Updates service is on offer suggests QR acknowledge that they don’t provide the level of service their customers desire. A better solution would be to provide a reliable and timely rail service.

Source: QR via

Will trucks or trains absorb future freight growth?

A short post by Bob Murphy at Business Spectator suggests that larger trucks will absorb freight growth in Australia providing the big rigs have adequate road infrastructure and defined routes to haul massive loads. Mr Murphy sites the fact that road networks have more coverage than rail networks and that trucks pay their own way (unlike rail) and concludes that larger trucks will win over rail in the future.

What about factoring in the price of fuel and that rail is more efficient than road on a tonne per kilometer basis? Road may be winning now but rail will surely reassert itself when fuel prices increase again. I suspect the Federal Government knew this when they announced a $1.2 billion investment in Australian Rail Track Corporation in December 2008 as part of the $4.7 billion Nation Building Package.

Whatever the reason for the investment in Australian Rail Track Corporation it seems obvious that road and rail will continue to share Australia’s freight haulage duties. The percentage carried by each will depend on how efficient they use fuel. When taken in this context trucks do seem to have an advantage in that some trucking companies are using LNG and CNG to reduce their fuel costs and emissions. However,in the two years that I’ve been writing on Envirofuel I’ve never heard of Australian freight train operators investigating alternative fuels. I hope that is because I haven’t been listening in the right places rather than complacency in the rail world.

City Living versus The Great Australian Dream

For a few years now I’ve harboured a dream to be able to live life without a car. I have this imaginary lifestyle in my mind where I live in the centre of a city. Everything I need is within walking or cycling distance. On the rare occasion that I need to do a long road trip I’ll just hire a car.

A series of articles that appeared recently in the Sydney Morning Herald and the Lithgow Mercury (here, here and here) got me thinking about it again. You see, Sydney planners are wanting to build an underground rail line from Central Station to Parramatta. Along that line they want to build high rise (up to 15 storeys) apartment blocks with the aim of encouraging their increasing population to live withing walking distance of the new mass transit system. From a sustainable mobility perspective the Sydney plan sounds great. The problem is the planners are fighting The Great Australian Dream. The big house with the big backyard.

Aussies want at least four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a double garage and room for the kids to run around out the back. The Great Australian Dream is the main driver behind urban sprawl in all our capital cities. To get the big block you have to live in the outer suburbs. Living in the outer suburbs means you will most likely need to drive a car to work, if not all the way then at least to the nearest decent public transport. As a result The Great Australian Dream clogs our roads in peak hour and causes us to curse everyone else following the same dream we are.

The sad news is that the Great Australian Dream is a lifestyle that is unsustainable in a peak oil world. The Sydney planners know it and so do a lot of other people, particularly Europeans who are practiced at living the width of a wall away from their neighbours. The rising cost of oil as supplies diminish will increase demand for public transport but Governments will be unable to build and maintain the infrastructure required to service the urban sprawl. We are going to have to adjust our definition of living and part of that adjustment will be living closer together, closer to public transport and closer to work.

Right now I’m almost living The Dream. I’ve got a big yard in a very quiet neighbourhood. The house is small but I’ve got a big shed. The problem is that I’m 35km from work and about 15km from the city where my better half works. There is no nearby public transport so getting to work would involve a drive followed by multiple bus and train journeys. Cycling and working from home are my best options for reducing car use but neither can be achieved every day due to distance and the need to see clients or work at clients’ sites.

So, what would it take to get me living closer to my neighbours, closer to public transport and closer to work? I’ve been mulling this over for the last few days and it all comes down to two words – lifestyle and happiness. To achieve the lifestyle and happiness I desire when living in a city centre I’d need the living environment to meet five criteria.

1. I am not prepared to live in a shoe box. I’m a country boy and I like my space. That doesn’t mean I need a big house, it just means I need room to move and an uncluttered environment in which to live. Good views would help.

2. If I’m going to move from being surrounded by not much to living shoulder to shoulder then I want to do so in a truly environmentally friendly building. It will need to be well insulated, take advantage of winter sun and summer breeze and have lots of natural light and ventilation. The building or development will have its own power supply, preferably cogeneration or trigeneration powered by natural gas.

3. Silence. I don’t want to hear the neighbours and I don’t want them to hear me. I don’t want to hear traffic even with the windows open.

4. There will be secure storage for bicycles and general living stuff underneath the building. There should be no need to clutter the place up by bringing bicycles upstairs or locking them to anything you can find. Each tenant should have their own private storage space.

5. The building or development will need to have shared facilities that provide safe and secure space for kids and adults to be active and get outdoors. Ideally it would be in a precinct that restricts the entry of cars thereby freeing up as much space as possible for parks, barbecues, swimming pool, gyms, etc. To my mind the design has failed if it encourages or necessitates car use.

That’s it. If I could find a place like that I’d seriously consider moving to the city centre or a public transport hub. I’m not sure about you but I haven”t seen or heard of any developments that meet, or even come close to, the above criteria in my city or others.

This brings us back to Sydney. If the designers and developers of the urban living environments along the Central to Parramatta mass transit system are going to tempt those chasing The Dream to live in their developments they are going to have to focus on lifestyle, not just stylish buildings. They are going to have to provide outdoor living space while building high quality, high density housing. And they are going to have to make the developments environmentally friendly otherwise they’ve lost before they’ve begun.

Has the time come for high speed trains in Australia?

Having had a very positive experience using the Inter City Express (ICE) trains to travel around Germany I am a supporter of the service high speed trains provide for the public. It is fast, convenient, safe and cost effective. When powered by renewable electricity high speed trains also have a very low environmental impact. All things being equal I’d always take the train if I had a choice of flying or a high speed train in Australia. Air travel cannot compete with the convenience of boarding a train in one city centre and alighting in another to be greeted with a myriad of other public transport options to quickly get you to your destination.

German Inter City Express train

BusinessWeek: German Inter City Express train

The Very Fast Train consortium first proposed a high speed rail link between Melbourne and Sydney in the late 1980’s. The track was to go via Canberra and East Gippsland and cost around $5 billion. Journey times were to be 1 hour from Sydney to Canberra and 2 hours from Canberra to Melbourne. The proposal ended when the Federal Government did not agree to the tax provisions put forward by the proponents.

The Speedrail consortium subsequently proposed a high speed rail link between Sydney and Canberra. The consortium saw this as the first stage of a possible Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney-Brisbane network. However, this proposal stopped in 2000 when the then Federal Government and the Speedrail consortium could not agree on the level of government financial support required for the project.

On the back of rising oil prices (since subsided) and a greater emphasis on sustainable mobility the Canberra Business Council (CBC) has attempted to reopen the debate on high speed trains with a submission to the Infrastructure Australia agenda. The CBC submission uses the following key points to highlight the benefits of an East Coast high speed train network:

  • Improvements in technology, competitiveness and supply over the past decade.
  • Travel demand on the East Coast. The Melbourne – Sydney air route is the fourth busiest in the world and Sydney-Brisbane is ranks seventh in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Increased economic standard of living for Australians.
  • Use for freight. High speed freight trains are in use in France and soon to expand across Europe.
  • Environmental sustainability and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Energy efficiency.
  • Better social outcomes, quality of life, and reduced social disadvantage for regional centres on the rail line.

To put this into perspective, countries which are extending their existing high speed train networks include Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Japan and South Korea. New high speed train networks are under construction or being planned in The Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Vietnam, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Morocco, Argentina and the USA (in California).

High Speed Rail for Australia, also by the CBC, highlights why Australia should look again at high speed rail. While none of the high speed rail projects listed above match the distances required in for a Melbourne – Brisbane line the technology is readily available and I’m sure Australians would use the service extensively once they understood the capabilities and convenience such a service offers. Unfortunately, history tells us that a project of this magnitude cannot succeed unless the Federal Government has the political will to make it happen.

The establishment of Infrastructure Australia by the current government may give high speed trains a fighting chance. One of the primary functions of Infrastructure Australia is to advise governments, investors and owners of infrastructure on Australia’s current and future needs and priorities relating to nationally significant infrastructure. The above submission by CBC was sent to Infrastructure Australia for evaluation and possible inclusion on the National Infrastructure Priority List. The first of these lists should be handed to the Council of Australian Governments in March 2009.

Source: Net Traveller

Victorian Transport Plan released

The Victorian Department of Transport released the Victorian Transport Plan (VTP) earlier this month. Not having a great understanding of Melbourne and Victoria make it hard to assess the VTP but at least Victoria has a plan. The proof will be in the execution.

Highlights include:

  • Up to 70 new trains and 100km of new track for Melbourne’s suburban rail systems
  • Up to 50 new trams
  • Up to 270 new buses and the continuation of the hybrid bus trial
  • Regional rail improvements to boost capacity by 9000 extra passengers and hour
  • Upgrades to regional transport infrastructure (in partnership with the Commonwealth)
  • Improved freight access to Port Melbourne
  • Completing the Melbourne ring road
  • Improving regional rail lines including electrification of existing lines
  • Fostering research into second and third generation biofuels
  • $100 million increase in funding for bicycle lanes and shared paths
  • $5 million public bicycle hire scheme for inner Melbourne
  • Encouraging the use of low emission vehicles
  • Mandatory emissions targets for State Government fleets


  • No transport emissions reduction target set
  • No inclusion of viable alternative fuels such as natural gas

You can download the VTP here (9.2Mb PDF).

You can download maps showing the detail here.

Freight Futures is a companion plan to the VTC dealing specifically with Victoria’s long-term freight network strategy. You can download Freight Futures here (5.3Mb PDF).